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Ten of the Best Books in Translation

Being able to read books translated into English from another language can only broaden our horizons. Books from other cultures allow us to savour their differences and enjoy forms and conventions of art in picture books that are p erhaps different from our own. Here Deborah Hallford from Outside In World chooses her top ten children’s books in translation.

Happiness is a Watermelon on your Head

Stella Dreis, translated and rewritten from Portuguese by Daniel Hahn, Phoenix Yard Books, 978 1 907912 05 4, £6.99 pbk

Why is Miss Jolly so happy? She exudes a cheerfulness that proves extremely irritating to her miserable neighbours Miss Whimper, Miss Grouch and Miss Stern. In their desperate quest to find out the secret of her happiness, they create weird and wonderful hats from all manner of strange objects, but nothing seems to do the trick. Until, that is, they are showered with watermelons!

The illustrations are a riot of colour, eccentric, larger-than-life characters filling every page. The text perfect matches the artwork, brilliant rhyming verse by Daniel Hahn swooping across the pages. 4+

Can You Whistle, Johanna?

Ulf Stark, illustrated by Anna Höglund, translated from Swedish by Julia Marshall, Gecko Press, 978 0 9582598 2 8, £5.99 pbk

As two boys play together, Ulf talks about his grandfather. His friend Berra reflects that it must be nice to have a grandfather, so they set out to find him one. When they visit a retirement home the next day they identify the perfect candidate sitting alone in his room. ‘Grandpa Ned’ becomes Berra’s new adopted grandfather and the trio embark on a series of days out until one day the inevitable happens and the boys find Ned’s room is empty.

A memorable and thought-provoking book that conveys the message that true friendship can transcend age. It is delivered with sensitivity and wit, heightened further by Anna Höglund’s highly distinctive illustrations. 9+

8 Books for Keeps No.198 January 2013 10 The Sun is Yellow

Kvta Pacovská, translated from German, Tate Publishing, 978 1 84976 064 5, £14.99 hbk

The Sun is Yellowis an adventure through the magical world of colour. With die-cut pages, lift-the-flaps to open and hidden characters to discover, Czech artist Kvta Pacovská’s unique style fires the imagination. Children will


experimenting with the wheel of colour or opening the flaps to discover what is inside. The text is sparse but poetic and the characters are witty and amusing: the miserable snail that only sees the world in black and white, the optimistic frog that helps him find the colour in his life. 5+

Tistou, the boy with green thumbs

Maurice Druon, translation by Humphrey Hare, updated by Francoise Jones, Illustrated by Ray Hedger, Hawthorn Press, 978 1 907359 08 7, £12.99 hbk

Eight-year-old Tistou is sent home from school after falling asleep in class. His father decides that he will continue his education by learning from real life and where better to start than in the garden! Now Tistou has no time to sleep because he learns the most extraordinary thing – ‘flowers prevent evil things from happening’. Written in 1957 and considered in France to be a classic on a par with The Little Prince this is a charming parable that deals with the darker side of human life, the insanity of war and mortality. 8+

Duck, Death and the Tulip, Wolf Erlbruch

translated from German by Catherine Chidgley, Gecko Press, 978 1 877467 17 0, £6.99 pbk

Duck is terrified when she realises that she is being stalked by an eerie skeletal figure in a checkered outfit. But as they begin to have philosophical conversations about the afterlife, Duck reluctantly accepts the presence of Death in her life. They even become friendly and when Duck dies Death gently places her body in the river laying a black tulip on her as he sends her on her way.

Although the figure of Death is scary, the illustrations have a delicacy and humour that help the reader cope with the

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